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How they keep the fair safe

Sheriff's deputies and private security plan for months ahead and quietly patrol the fairgrounds. A lot happens behind the scenes too.

August 04, 2012|By Lauren Williams
  • Orange County sheriff's deputies bring a fairgoer back to their command post for further evaluation July 20.
Orange County sheriff's deputies bring a fairgoer… (KEVIN CHANG )

For many patrons, the Orange County Fair conjures images of bright lights, snorting livestock and, of course, bizarre foods.

What may be less present is the public and private security behind the scenes and the months of planning and orchestration that go into creating a safe atmosphere for fairgoers.

It's a perennial ritual built around planning.

In February, Orange County Sheriff's Department representatives meet with fair organizers and, while looking at the performers and attractions, figure out the number of deputies necessary, balancing the fine line between cost and protection, according to Sgt. Mark Alsobrook.

They're gearing up for times when, seemingly overnight, the population of a mid-size city, some 45,000 to 80,000 people, enters the gates at 88 Fair Drive, flooding the 150-acre fairgrounds.

Then there's the fair's staff, which swells from 100 year-round to 1,300 seasonal, including 200 safety personnel brought on to help with the 24-hour monitoring at the park from a week before the fair begins until a week after it closes.

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Like many bustling communities, a small police station is centrally located on the fairgrounds, near an access point to the main street, where an ambulance or jail-bound sheriff's van can easily come and go.

Tucked away behind The Hangar concert venue is a command post equipped with all the tools a typical law enforcement agency needs to make an arrest, process evidence and conduct interviews.

A computer-aided dispatch system can run license plates, and send deputies to an area, while a separate trailer provides deputies the tools necessary to write up reports. There is also special paperwork for state reports since the fairgrounds belong to a state agricultural district, not the county or city.

As the day progresses, security staffing ebbs and flows with the tide of people that pours through the park's color-coded gates.

Deputies on bikes and in squad cars patrol the parking lot, while others are assigned to the venues for special shows. The diamond-shaped Pacific Amphitheatre is broken up into positions like on a baseball field, with the stage serving as home plate.

The concert lineup can affect staffing levels. Certain performers can change the dynamic of the crowd and may require more security, Alsobrook said.

A 1960s cover band likely won't rile concertgoers like a punk act, for example.

Costa Mesa police patrol the traffic immediately outside the fairgrounds while the deputies roam the freely. There's one rule: Keep moving.

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